March 17, 2014
NOTRE DAME, Ind. — For the 19th consecutive season, and the 21st time in school history, Notre Dame has earned a berth in the NCAA Women’s Basketball Championship, having received the Atlantic Coast Conference’s automatic berth into this year’s field by winning its first ACC Championship title last week. The Fighting Irish are the No. 1 seed in the NCAA Championship’s Notre Dame Region — the third consecutive year and fourth time in program history they have earned a top seed — and will play 16th-seeded Robert Morris (the Northeast Conference champion) at 1:30 p.m. (ET) Saturday at Savage Arena in Toledo, Ohio.
The game will be televised by ESPN as part of that network’s “whiparound coverage,” while viewers in the South Bend market, as well as those watching on the Internet through the WatchESPN platform, will see the game in its entirety. However, the majority of ESPN viewers nationwide will be shuttled between all four games in that time slot, including the Notre Dame-Robert Morris contest. All Fighting Irish games also can be heard live on the radio in the Michiana area on Pulse FM (96.9/92.1), as well as worldwide on the Internet through the official Notre Dame athletics multimedia platform, WatchND (watchnd.tv), with veteran broadcaster Bob Nagle on the call.
Eighth-seeded Vanderbilt and No. 9 seed Arizona State will square off in Saturday’s other first-round Notre Dame Region game in Toledo (11 a.m. ET tipoff on ESPN2), with the two first-round winners advancing to a March 24 second-round contest at 6:30 p.m. ET — the television coverage is still to be announced.
Fans wishing to purchase tickets for either of Saturday’s first-round matchups or the March 24 second-round game in Toledo ($20 lower bowl reserved/$14 adult upper bowl reserved/$7 youth and college student upper bowl reserved) can ONLY be purchased through the University of Toledo athletics ticket office — no tickets will be sold through Notre Dame. These single-game tickets will go on sale at 8:30 a.m. (ET) Tuesday through the UT Ticket Office, either by calling (419) 530-4653 or going on-line to the Toledo athletics ticketing web site. In addition, all-session ticket packages (for all three games) are available ($36 lower bowl reserved/$24 upper bowl reserved/$12 youth and college student upper bowl reserved), and also can be purchased either on-line or by calling the UT Ticket Office.
“We followed Toledo throughout the end of the season, hoping that would be a neutral site and we could go there,” Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw said. “I’m so happy we were rewarded with that after the season we’ve had. It’s great for our fans, it’s great for our team, (and) it’s so awesome to be able to get on a bus and go to a game and have that flexibility of traveling. I’m really excited about the seed.”
“It was a little nerve-wracking,” senior guard/tri-captain Kayla McBride added. “A lot of people had us going to Baton Rouge originally, and that’s what I had assumed, but it feels really good to be going to Toledo. It’s close, we’re going to have a lot of fans there and our families can come, so we’re very excited.”
“In the past couple of years, we might have been a little more sure about where we were going to be placed,” senior forward/tri-captain Natalie Achonwa said. “But this year, having the different variety (of places) that we could be placed in the tournament, it was exciting to find out that we were going to be in Toledo. We know that we’re close enough that our fans can come and support us. They do so much for us and it’s great to allow them to come to Toledo and help support us in our first two games.”
Notre Dame (32-0, 16-0 ACC) was ranked No. 2 in Monday’s final Associated Press poll of the season and No. 2 in the latest Women’s Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA)/USA Today poll (final poll to be released after the NCAA tournament). The Fighting Irish earned their third consecutive outright regular season conference title (and first in their inaugural season as an ACC member) by four games over second-place finishers Duke and Maryland, and posted an 11-0 record against ranked opponents, including six wins against top-10 teams (No. 3/3 Duke, No. 7/7 Duke, No. 8/6 Maryland, No. 10/10 Duke, No. 10/11 Penn State, No. 11/10 Tennessee, No. 13/17 North Carolina State, No. 14/11 North Carolina, No. 14/17 North Carolina State, No. 19/18 Michigan State and No. 25/25 DePaul).
What’s more, Notre Dame registered better than half of its wins (17) against teams that qualified for this year’s NCAA Championship — each of the aforementioned ranked squads, plus fellow ACC members Florida State (twice), Georgia Tech and Syracuse, and non-conference foes Penn and Oregon State. Notre Dame also defeated seven programs that won either their conference regular season or tournament title — Central Michigan (MAC West Division champion), DePaul (BIG EAST regular season/tournament champion), Michigan State (Big Ten regular season co-champion), Penn (Ivy League), Penn State (Big Ten regular season co-champion), South Dakota State (Summit League regular season champion) and Tennessee (SEC tournament champion).
For the fourth consecutive season, three Notre Dame players earned all-conference recognition — McBride (Erie, Pa./Villa Maria Academy) was named the ACC Player of the Year by the conference coaches and was a first-team all-ACC pick by both the coaches and ACC Blue Ribbon Panel, joining sophomore guard Jewell Loyd (Lincolnwood, Ill./Niles West) for the latter honor. Loyd also was named to the ACC All-Defensive Team, while Achonwa (Guelph, Ontario/St. Mary’s Catholic) was a second-team all-ACC choice by both the Blue Ribbon Panel and coaches.
In addition, McGraw earned her second consecutive conference Coach of the Year trophy (and sixth of her career), receiving top honors from both the Blue Ribbon Panel and her fellow ACC coaches. McGraw has won her six conference Coach of the Year honors in five different leagues, and she is the first Notre Dame coach to earn that distinction in consecutive seasons since 1985 and 1986, when Mary DiStanislao was a repeat choice as the North Star Conference Coach of the Year.
Notre Dame is 41-19 (.683) all-time in 20 previous NCAA Championship appearances (all under McGraw), having won the 2001 national championship and advancing to the NCAA Women’s Final Four on five occasions, including each of the past three seasons, highlighted by berths in the 2011 and 2012 NCAA national championship games. The Fighting Irish also have won 16 of their last 18 NCAA first-round games, and have advanced to the Sweet 16 (regional semifinals) 11 times in the past 17 seasons. In addition, Notre Dame’s current streak of 19 consecutive NCAA tournament berths is the sixth-longest in the nation (and eighth all-time), while its .683 winning percentage is eighth-best in tournament history.
Notre Dame has garnered a No. 1 seed for the fourth time in its NCAA Championship history, with a combined 15-2 (.882) record as a top seed in the tournament. In 2001, the Fighting Irish won all six games as a No. 1 seed en route to the national title at St. Louis’ Scottrade Center. In 2012, Notre Dame reached the NCAA national championship game before falling to Baylor, 80-61, at the Pepsi Center in Denver. Last season, the Fighting Irish won four games in a row to claim the Norfolk Regional title before bowing to Connecticut in the NCAA Women’s Final Four national semifinals at New Orleans Arena.
Based in Moon Township, Pa. (just outside of Pittsburgh), Robert Morris (21-11, 14-4 NEC) is making its third NCAA Championship appearance, and first since back-to-back trips in 2007 and 2008. The Colonials come into this weekend’s NCAA first-round contest against Notre Dame having won four in a row and 16 of their last 19, with road losses to conference foes Wagner (67-51 on Feb. 3), St. Francis Brooklyn (93-82 in overtime on Feb. 24) and Saint Francis (Pa.) (78-73 on March 1) marring their resume down the stretch.
RMU won the Northeast Conference regular season title by one game over Mount St. Mary’s, then claimed the conference tournament championship with victories over LIU-Brooklyn (65-49), Bryant (72-67) and Saint Francis (Pa.) (78-64) to earn the NEC’s automatic berth into the NCAA Championship.
The Colonials, who reached the 20-win mark for the sixth time in 11 seasons under NEC Coach of the Year Sal Buscaglia, are led by versatile senior forward Artemis Spanou, a member of the Greek National Team. The two-time NEC Player of the Year, Spanou (19.8 ppg., 14.8 rpg.) is one of just seven players in NCAA history with 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds, 300 assists and 100 blocks in her career, and she also is third in NCAA Division I history with 86 career double-doubles (including an NCAA-best 27 this season). Fellow Greek and All-NEC Rookie Team selection Anna Niki Stamolamprou is second on the squad at 12.5 points per game while sophomore Ashley Ravelli chips in 9.0 points per game.
The Fighting Irish will be facing Robert Morris for the first time on Saturday. Notre Dame is 41-3 (.932) against first-time opponents since the start of the 2000-01 season, including a 10-0 record against new opponents in NCAA Championship play during that time (most recently defeating last year’s first-round opponent UT Martin (97-64), and Sweet 16 foe Kansas (93-63), in their initial matchups). Notre Dame also has won its last 17 games against first-time foes, including victories earlier this season over UNC Wilmington (99-50), Oregon State (70-58), South Dakota State (94-51), Clemson (71-51) and Florida State (81-60).
Notre Dame and Robert Morris had two common opponents this season — Duquesne and Virginia Tech. The Fighting Irish won both games against that pair, defeating Duquesne (100-61) on Dec. 1 in Toronto, and Virginia Tech (74-48) on Jan. 30 at Purcell Pavilion. The Colonials went 0-2 against those common foes, losing at Duquesne (79-63) on Dec. 18 and at Virginia Tech (70-64) on Dec. 29.
Vanderbilt (18-12, 7-9 SEC) finished in a five-way tie for sixth place in the SEC regular season standings before falling to Georgia, 53-43 in the second round of the SEC Championship. The Commodores, who come into the NCAA tournament having lost four in a row and nine of their last 11, will be making their 27th NCAA Championship appearance, and 14th in a row, dating back to the 2000 tournament.
Notre Dame is 4-1 all-time against Vanderbilt, most recently earning a 74-69 victory over the Commodores on Dec. 31, 2009, at Purcell Pavilion. The Fighting Irish also defeated Vanderbilt in the teams’ lone postseason matchup, 72-64 in the NCAA Championship Midwest Regional final on March 26, 2001, at the Pepsi Center in Denver.
The Fighting Irish and Commodores had two common opponents this season — Duke and Tennessee. Notre Dame went 4-0 against the pair, winning three times against Duke (88-67 in Durham, N.C., on Feb. 2; 81-70 at Purcell Pavilion on Feb. 23; 69-53 at Greensboro, N.C., in ACC title game on March 9) and once against Tennessee (86-70 in Knoxville, Tenn., on Jan. 20). Meanwhile, Vanderbilt went 1-2 against those squads, falling at Duke (88-69 on Nov. 21) and splitting a home-and-home series with UT, winning at home (74-63 on Jan. 12) and losing on the road (81-53 on Feb. 10).
For the second time in four seasons, Notre Dame and Arizona State are in a position to match up in the second round of the NCAA Championship — the Fighting Irish and Sun Devils both traveled to Salt Lake City, Utah, for the first two rounds of the 2011 NCAA Championship (Dayton Region), but ASU dropped a 63-45 decision to Temple in a first-round game at Utah’s Huntsman Center.
This year, Arizona State (22-9, 11-7 Pac-12) stormed from the gate, winning 20 of its first 23 games and rising as high as No. 11 in the AP poll and No. 16 in the WBCA/USA Today poll. However, the Sun Devils hit a rough patch in the final month of the season, losing six of their final eight games to finish in a fourth-place tie in the Pac-12 Conference before falling to eventual champion USC, 59-57 in the Pac-12 tournament quarterfinals. ASU will be making the 12th NCAA Championship appearance in program history and first since 2011.
Notre Dame and Arizona State have met three times before on the hardwood, with the Sun Devils holding a 2-1 series lead. ASU also won the last time the teams met, which also was in the second round of the NCAA Championship (Tempe Region), 70-61 on March 21, 2005, in Fresno, Calif.
The two sides had five common opponents this season — UCLA, Oregon State, Miami, Syracuse and North Carolina. Notre Dame went 5-0 against the group, downing four of them at home — UCLA (90-48 on Dec. 7), Miami (79-52 on Jan. 23), Syracuse (101-64 on Feb. 9) and North Carolina (100-75 on Feb. 27) — along with a road win at Oregon State (70-58 on Dec. 29). Meanwhile, Arizona State was 5-1 against those common foes, besting North Carolina (94-81 in overtime on Nov. 29 in Cancun, Mexico), Miami (75-73 at home on Dec. 21), Syracuse (63-60 on Dec. 30) and UCLA (59-57 at home on Jan. 12), and splitting a home-and-home series with Oregon State (winning 64-62 at home on Jan. 31; losing at OSU, 66-43 on March 2).
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— Chris Masters, Associate Athletic Media Relations Director